Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft review
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft review – Easy-to-understand core rules and wealth of free content make Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft’s first impression a fantastic one – something is not easily done for a virtual collectible card game. Elaborate, satisfying card animations, excellently-paced unlockables, and developer Blizzard’s trademark polish make it extremely easy to slip into “just one more game…” mode.
Eventually, my superficial enjoyment gave way to a deeper appreciation of Hearthstone’s elegant class and card balance – there is more than enough greatness here to drown out my occasional resentment of its random nature. After nearly 1,000 games I’m still hooked, and still discovering clever card interactions and combos.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft review
And yet this is not a game where you and your opponent mindlessly smash cards together with the luckier player coming out on top. Even a dead-simple card like Fireball has interesting situational choices to it. Do you attack your opponent’s face to deplete his overall health, or destroy the big minion he just laid? Or do you hold onto it until you can combo it with a card that makes your spells more powerful, or a creature that gets stronger every time you cast a spell? Those layers of thoughtful strategy, timing, and mind games create a game that’s both accessible and has plenty of depth.
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Splitting the card pool among nine playable classes, each with their own unique special power, add to this feeling. Each Hearthstone class thematically echoes their World of Warcraft counterpart and a TCG archetype – Warlocks can damage themselves to draw a card, favoring an aggressive playstyle, Priests can heal and favor defense, Mages deal direct damage, and so on. This system smartly (and gently) nudges new players closer to standard deck construction, while still providing plenty of variety and flexibility for experts. This also serves as a great connection to Warcraft lore.
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Unlike physical card games like Magic: The Gathering, Blizzard’s willingness to introduce a certain degree of randomness sometimes leaves too many critical moments up to the gods of probability. Unpredictability does add tension, but a random damage card that only has a 10% chance to blow up in your face will sometimes blow up in your face. And you will curse. Drawing the exact card you need to win already feels like chance enough – Hearthstone is a little heavy on random effects.
Hearthstone on iPad plays identically to its PC & Mac big brother. It’s a seamless experience – all your decks and cards, Battle.net friends and other account details carry over. You can even start an Arena run on one platform and finish it on the other. Multiplayer is cross-platform as well. Kudos to Blizzard for letting me play my PC friends from the comfort of my tablet!
The touch controls present no problems and feel totally intuitive. Tapping or dragging cards feels just as snappy as the PC version. Attacking, casting spells, selecting Battlecry targets, and all other in-game actions feel great.
On an iPad Air, I did experience slowdown during intense out-of-game animations like opening card packs or arena rewards, and disenchanting spare cards. But inside matches, the experience feels identical.
An enemy Mage top-decking an ultra-deadly Pyroblast never leaves me frustrated for long though, thanks to Hearthstone’s incredible level of polish and attention to detail. It just feels great. Cards have a wonderful physicality to them, with powerful minions thunking loudly onto the playing field and smashing into opponents (complete with crowds cheering) when they attack. It’s also visible when an opponent mouses over a card or minion as they consider their options. There’s no substitute for sitting across the table from an opponent, but Hearthstone offers up the next best thing.
A Daily Quest system generously pays you enough currency to buy a new premium pack of cards roughly every other day, just from doing things like winning three games with a specific class, or dealing 100 total damage. If you do decide to spend money, Hearthstone’s five-card packs cost $1.25 to $1.50 each.
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This currency can also be spent to enter Hearthstone’s premium card-drafting Arena mode. Winning multiple matches in the Arena isn’t easy (since it’s not free to enter) but if you pull it off you’ll exit with more gold than you entered with, allowing skilled players to truly play indefinitely without spending a cent.
All this worked well when beta invites shot out a year ago, but Hearthstone now enjoys a commendable degree of balance in the wake of months of tweaks and player suggestions. It’s more apparent in the early levels when most challenges you meet haven’t built powerful decks through their winnings from daily quests and simple leveling, but flashes of it remain at higher levels when players start slapping down legendary cards with alarming frequency. Hearthstone’s class decks perform a little of the same service as alt in an online role-playing game; once you get tired of one class, you can jump on another and start leveling it from scratch for a varied experience.
The best way to break this tedium is to break into the Arena mode. Arenas come with an entry fee, although it’s usually negligible if you manage to complete the daily quests, which have you doing things like winning matches with a specific deck or dealing 100 damage to enemy heroes. The allure of Arena lies in the leveling of the playing field. Rather than bringing your own decks into the battle, you’re only allowed to choose from one of three classes, and then you need to build your deck by choosing one of the random cards Hearthstone throws at you until you complete a full deck of 30 cards. The outcome can still be outrageously imbalanced. Some schmuck might swim in legendary cards, while the one you have never gets drawn from the deck. Of course, it works both ways. The next Arena match could shower you with legendaries like Ragnaros instead.
Hearthstone features no built-in spectator mode, nor does it offer a replay mode, which could have been helpful in learning from your mistakes. Features such as team battles that make Magic’s digital duel games so fun makes no appearances here and the daily quests take long enough to complete that you’ll sometimes want to spend cash if you want to play in the Arena. But such objections are minor in light of the breezy but brainy experience Blizzard delivers here, particularly for the massive segment of the populace that’s never played a collectible card game. If it’s dumbed down, then it’s in good hands. If any developer’s good at weeding out the chaff of more robust games in a particular genre, surely it’s Blizzard.
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